The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 4: British Gardens (1100-1830)

Hopetoun House as an example of Scottish garden design

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613. The country-seats of Scotland will be found described at length in the Traveller's Guide through that country; but as, under England, we have given a somewhat detailed notice of a celebrated place in that kingdom, so here we shall give the description of one long celebrated in Scotland, as furnished us, in 1831, by the very intelligent gardener there, Mr. James Smith. Hopetoun House (fig. 200.) is situated on the banks of the Frith of Fortn, a few miles west from Edinburgh. Both on account of the elegance of the mansion itself, and of the magnificence of the scenery with which it is surrounded, it is considered one of the most princely residences in Scotland. The house is of Palladian architecture, in the French palace style of the age of Louis XIV. Its erection was commenced from the designs of Sir William Bruce, and it was finished by Mr. Robert Adams, a well-known architect in the middle of the last century. The site is an irregular platform, not 300 yards from the Forth, and about 100 feet above the waters of that estuary. The ground declines towards the south and north, but especially towards the latter; where there is a steep bank covered with wood, which forms a barrier towards the water. The area, including the park, pleasure-grounds, and gardens, is irregularly undulated with ridges and valleys, terminating in a north-east direction towards the sea, and is thickly clothed with old wood. The ground in the immediate vicinity of the house is not susceptible of much pictorial effect; at least, much has not been attempted, probably from the splendour of the more distant scenery, which lies within the range of view from the principal windows, and rises immeasurably above all the feeble imitations of art. The view from the east front is remarkably fine. From a bend in the coast, the house is so placed as to possess an almost central prospect of the Forth, which stretches away as far as the eye can reach, and forms a noble prospect, indented on either side by promontories, interspersed with little islands, and bounded on the extreme horizon by the German Ocean at about the distance of four miles. The elevated and finely wooded grounds of Dalmeny Park on one side, and the bare and rugged hill of North Queensferry on the other, both projecting into the sea and narrowing the passage, are conspicuous objects. In front of the latter is the bay of St. Margaret's Hope, the safest anchorage on the east coast, and which was in 1831 a quarantine station. The number of vessels which frequent the Hope in stormy weather give this view quite a marine character. The prospect on the west is less extensive, being limited by the masses of trees in the pleasure-ground, through which only a few vistas are cut to remarkable objects; such as Blackness Castle, one of the forts upheld in conformity with the articles of the Union, and a faded memorial of Scottish national independence. Along the brow of the long and irregular plateau on which the house stands, there is a terrace walk, from which are seen views of surpassing beauty. The Forth, apparently cut off from the east by intervening objects, partakes of the lake character, and is said to resemble some of the lakes of Switzerland. Immediately opposite, the contour of the hills of Fife is rather tame, but it rises into more magnificence as it retires from the eye. Farther west, the Ochil Hills display those finely outlined eminences which characterise the transition series of rocks. They are seen with the sea as a base line, and hence appear to be of greater elevation than they actually are. Beyond them, and still farther west, tower the rugged summits of the Grampians; among which, Ben Ledi, Benmore, and, in clear weather, Ben Lomond, are proudly conspicuous. The ground on the south side of the Forth is less elevated, though there are occasional risings. The intermediate basin is occupied by an apparent lake, about four miles broad, and of great length. Over this sheet of water the summer sunsets are of uncommon splendour. The park at Hopetoun House contains about 1700 acres; but, from the irregularity of the surface, and the abundance of tall trees, it can be seen only in detached portions. A considerable part is set aside for deer, and encloses the kept or highly polished grounds on three sides. The pleasure-ground was laid out between 1725 and 1730, and it is not known whether any of the professional artists of the time were employed to assist in its formation. It appears to have been designed in the Dutch style, as there are remains of yew hedges, and other decorations of that school: many changes have been made, to bring it nearer the modern taste; but it has never been entirely remodelled. There is still a very extensive lawn, with many right angles and straight lines; but the extreme formality of these lines has been broken, at least to the eye, by the introduction of detached trees. There is a certain stateliness about the grounds, which harmonises well with the aspect of the mansion itself. The ground plan (fig. 201.) may be said to exhibit the anatomy, but, except to those who are practised in comparing plans with the surfaces from which they were taken, will convey no accurate idea of the physiognomy of the place. The climate qf this part of Scotland is favourable to the growth of trees, particularly of evergreens, which are very abundant. Some hollies have trunks approaching to six feet in circumference, and a number of the variegated kinds have reached the stature of trees of the third rank. Among the large trees may be mentioned two cedars of Lebanon; one of which is fifteen feet, and the other upwards of twelve feet in circumference. There is a black American spruce fir about seven feet, and a hemlock spruce above four feet and a half, in circumference. There are also two tulip trees, which flower every year, the largest of which is nearly six feet in girth. It is a fact, perhaps, worth notice, that the cedars before mentioned increase annually by two inches in circumference; while the greatest increase that has been observed in any other trees here is one inch, in the Spanish chestnut. As indicating the mildness of the climate, it may be remarked, that the ungrafted Spanish chestnuts ripen their fruit here in favourable seasons. In the arboretum the ground is sown with grass, which is kept short. It is interspersed with a few large trees of beech, sweet chestnuts. Scotch pine. &c. The plants lately introduced are the most showy evergreens, collections of Cratï¾µ'gus, A'cer, and other genera. In this part of the garden, and near the stream of water on both sides, are various figures made in the grass, and planted with rhododendrons, azaleas, ledums, and andromedas. The collection of roses is also here, and is extensive. The situation and climate of these gardens are extremely favourable for fruit. The principal of these are apples, pears, apricots, and figs, which are produced in great abundance, and of excellent quality. Plums and peaches succeed moderately well. Many of the new Flemish, French, and German pears have borne fruit on the walls: in general they are inferior to the older sorts; but the following may be mentioned as valuable acquisitions to the country in general, and to Scotland in particular: - Beurree Spence, Marie Louise, Napoleon, Greenknowe, Winterbirne, Duchesse d'Angouleme, Passe-Colmar, several varieties, Nouvelle Beurree d'Hiver, Delices de Chasselas, Glout Morceau, Beurree d'Aremberg, with, perhaps, some others. The autumn Bergamotte ripens on standards, and in this state is, perhaps, of finer quality than when grown on walls. The Downton and Ingestrie Pippin apples succeed perfectly well on standards; a thing of common occurrence in England, but rare in Scotland. The gardens at Hopetoun House are placed on the south-east of the house; and, as may be seen from the plan (fig. 201. g to r), are rather nearer it than in most modern residences. The gardens, however, do not intercept any of the principal views; and they are covered by a tall holly hedge, which, being allowed to grow wild, forms an agreeable side screen to the front lawn. The gardens are formed on the two sides of a shallow valley, through which runs a small stream of water. The declivities slope to the south and north. The extent is about thirteen acres; this space was intersected by a number of interior walls; but these were removed in 1816, when the gardens were remodelled. At that time they had fallen into a state of comparative neglect and exhaustion; and they were surcharged with moisture, in consequence of the stream alluded to running over a bed of peat moss. It was found impossible to confine this stream by any other less artificial means than a paved channel, watertight in the bottom and sides. The peat soil was then carefully drained. The surface of the ground, which had hitherto been very uneven, was levelled; great care being taken to preserve an uniform layer of soil of sufficient thickness, and at the same time to effect such an intermingling of the materials as to remedy the exhaustion, which had arisen from the protracted culture of the surface. In this operation more than 80,000 cart loads of earth were moved. Along several of the walls, the fruit borders had become completely exhausted; the soil was therefore removed, and its place was supplied with turf and fresh loam. Many young trees were planted; and the excellence of their fruit, and the increased fertility of the old trees, have already repaid the labour: indeed, this is an operation which may always be lately recommended in such circumstances, when fresh soil in sufficient quantity can be easily procured. It may be remarked, that, in renewing the soil both of the borders and of the garden, recourse was generally had to an accumulation of vegetable mould, which had been collected from the leaves annually swept from the pleasure-ground: this was employed to ameliorate the heavy soil, and was attended with the happiest effects. The kitchen-garden (fig. 201. n n n) is composed of two declivities, with a narrow intermediate space, and embraces a considerable variety of soils; such as sand, gravel, peat earth, and light and clayey loam. These circumstances, with the varied inclinations of the surface, are very advantageous in accelerating or protracting crops, and in adapting them to the different seasons. When the whole was recast, in 1816, it was wished to avoid the stiff form which prevails in many gardens in this part of Scotland, and advantage was taken of the extent and uneven surface to give the whole an irregular effect without entrenching much on the principle of utility; one wall encloses the kitchen, flower, and other garden departments. The gardens may be said to be divided into four unequal portions, runuing into each other without any very marked separation; the rill of water running from west to east divides the whole into two parts. The north side is again divided by a large holly hedge twenty feet high; and the south side by a waved walk, and by a bank of evergreens. The north-west division, as being nearest the house, is a flower-garden, with hothouses below the middle of the bank. The south-west division is an arboretum, which has a communication with the pleasure-ground. The two eastern and larger divisions are the fruit and kitchen gardens combined. But the hollow space by the water is occupied on the one side by a Linnï¾µan arrangement of herbaceous plants, and on the other by an American ground, filled with shrubs and other plants which require a moist and peaty soil. The flower-garden is stocked with an extensive collection of the most ornamental plants which will stand the open air of this climate. Supplementary to these a great quantity of pelargoniums, fuchsias, and other showy greenhouse plants, are propagated every autumn, and planted out in the beginning of the following summer; these, with dahlias, and the finer annuals, provide means of decoration during autumn; rivalling the splendour, and, perhaps, surpassing the elegance, of the first flowers of May. The forcing-houses extend to about 200 feet. Grapes and pines are the principal forced fruits. There is a stove for exotics; and a forcing-house for roses and other tender flowers. The collection of plants is considerable. The melon-ground is very extensive, comprising seventy lights. Part of these are employed in growing successive pine plants; and there is a small pit in addition to the flued houses in which they are successfully fruited by dung heat.